Ask Alan: Answering All Phil Mickelson’s Questions | Golf News and Tour Information

Knowing what you know, and in light of his retirement from the PGA Championship, do you think he will ever be able to return? @MrChickSports

Phil is a survivor. He’s been through a lot of controversy over his long career, and he’s always emerged with his vast (mostly) fanbase intact. As Jack Nicklaus said recently, we are a forgiving nation. Sports fans love a comeback and redemption story. Tiger Woods has put his fans and his family and the game far worse and he’s never been more loved than he is right now, so there’s definitely a way back for Mickelson. The complicating factor is the Saudis: if Phil takes their money, after revealing his true feelings about their fear, it will be hard for many fans and players to forgive him. But if he shows any contrition and pledges his loyalty to the PGA Tour, I think the golf world will be happy to cheer him on again.

How much did the Tour not granting his release influence that? @Scall1968

Mickelson is at a personal and professional crossroads. The PGA Tour’s outright refusal to allow any of its members to compete in the first Saudi event in June only complicated Phil’s decision making. There is safety in staying with the herd, and had the Tour granted releases, a group of its members would have played in the inaugural Saudi event. Now Mickelson must decide if he wants to be the player who challenges the Tour and potentially triggers an antitrust lawsuit that could reshape the business of professional golf. It would appeal to Phil’s ego and his deep desire to be celebrated as a visionary agent of change, but it carries a considerable risk of forever alienating fans and potential sponsors. By not playing in the PGA Championship, Mickelson has bought himself a few more weeks to see how the ground will continue to change.

What’s going on? Is it suspended? I’m confused. @PeteViles

There’s no doubt that the PGA Tour put Mickelson on ice; whether it is a suspension or a voluntary leave is purely semantic. But it’s been 90 days since Phil’s comments became public, which would match the length of Dustin Johnson’s suspension after failing a second drug test years ago. Forcing Mickelson to sit on the sidelines longer than that seems excessive. Unlike the Masters, the PGA Championship is not hosted by invitation by an all-powerful club that can do whatever it wants; Mickelson is exempt in the PGA field as the defending champion. And even if the Tour wanted Phil to stay in the penalty box longer than 90 days, the PGA of America doesn’t have to uphold disciplinary action from a rival organization. Let’s be real, the PGA of America would have liked Phil to go to Southern Hills because it would have been a monumental news event that led to monster ratings. The organization is funded largely by proceeds from the PGA Championship, plus the Ryder Cup which it hosts every four years. Of course, Seth Waugh and everyone at the PGA wanted Phil to play. That he didn’t had to be his call and no one else’s.

Can we just play golf? So many other issues in the world, it’s a game, a distraction – when and why did it become so political? @Shoduluk

It’s an idealistic view, as sport and politics have been intertwined since at least as far back as Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics. Gary Player was a lightning rod for apartheid South Africa. Lee Elder broke the Masters color barrier more than two decades after Rosa Parks. Shoal Creek laid bare the country club’s shameful history of racial discrimination, and Martha Burk further pointed out the game’s exclusionary practices. Controversy is therefore not a new phenomenon for the sport. Professional golf does not exist in a vacuum; players and tournaments are shaped by the world around them. I understand the temptation to wish golf was untouched by the issues of the day, but willful blindness has often led the game astray.

How great was it to see Greg Norman’s debacle and realize he was in a situation where he wasn’t going to be able to come out on top? @Bradorado1

Mickelson and Norman were never really friends, but they are kindred spirits. Both played the game in the same way: aggressive bordering on recklessness, and they brought that same energy to the Saudi situation. Part of Mickelson must be relieved that Norman, through his increasingly outrageous public statements, is taking some of the heat away from him. But, yes, it must be disturbing to imagine tying your professional future to an outcast like Norman. A prominent Tour agent recently confided that he had heard that Norman was at odds with the Saudis, which would be another wild development in this saga. If a leadership change is imminent with LIV Golf, that would be all the more reason for Mickelson to forfeit the PGA Championship and take more time to assess a chaotic situation.

#AskAlan If Phil switches to London, can we say it’s a break that has no end in sight? @cmupensfan

Not necessarily, given the Tour’s refusal to grant releases. But if Mickelson does not show up at the ensuing US Open, it raises the question of whether he will cancel the rest of this season. We all know that the US Open is the missing piece of Mickelson’s resume and his PGA victory earned him a five-year exemption to try and finish his Grand Slam career. To give up one of these precious chances would be particularly serious.

OOne thing that always interested me: after Phil admitted out loud all the problems with the Saudis… they still wanted him on the tour? Isn’t the point to sportswash and pretend that none of these problems exist? @ref513

I would say sportwashing is more about converting hearts and minds and turning skeptics into believers. If Phil starts making regular pilgrimages to Riyadh, visiting girls in classrooms, and eating in fancy restaurants alongside the female customers Norman likes to cite, it would generate a ton of feedback given the earlier skepticism of Michaelson. So perhaps his blunt comments make him the perfect ambassador to “see the light” and whitewash Saudi Arabia’s reputation.

Do you think Phil cares what his real fans think of him now? I’m a bit younger than Phil, I grew up being a huge Phil fan and I’m super disappointed in him. @Stoner7976

Yes, he cares. He hasn’t signed all those (hundreds of thousands?) autographs over the years because he doesn’t care. But he is also a strident personality who must feel that he is always right. His only public statement was a salad of words in which he made himself both the hero and the martyr of this situation. Mickelson did not acknowledge that many fans are hurt he would be colluding with a country that gave birth to 15 of the 9/11 hijackers and murdered a Washington Post journalist who resided in the United States. To truly apologize would require Mickelson to admit he made a monumental mistake, and he hates to do so; in his mind, he was a shrewd negotiator playing with the system. I don’t know if some fans will ever get the contrition they need from Mickelson to forgive him.

LIV “tour”… I haven’t really heard/understood where one can follow/watch the games in the United States or in the world. Would it be pay-per-play with or without ads? @Foregolffer

Nothing has been announced yet, as the tour is still struggling to figure out its TV/streaming situation. This could be a win for golf fans, which means free broadcasts without corporate intrusions, at least in the short term.

Why didn’t the golf media discuss the issues with the PGA Tour that Phil originally raised? They own the media rights to the players, have pay-to-play in a made-for-TV event, and so on. Are his problems not valid? @JStew68129215

Yes and no, athletes in major team sports do not own their media rights either. If they did, television contracts would be worth far less and player salaries would go down. But part of the irony, or tragedy, in all of this is that Mickelson was (is?) correct in many of his criticisms, but that was largely lost in all the outrage. In the absence of competition, the Tour product has become stale and its streaming and social media efforts are lukewarm at best. Players should have a greater voice in the affairs of the Tour and a greater share of revenue streams. Phil was starting to make inroads on these issues, and others, but he clearly lost his political capital.

Do you feel guilty about all this shit, Alan? @wokekenzie

It was uncomfortable to be in the middle of this story. I have a lot of emotions about this, but guilt is not one of them. I did not force Mickelson to engage in underhanded dealings with the Saudis that could overturn his home visit even if he had clear-headed knowledge of their atrocities. I didn’t make him call me to tell me everything. These were his choices. He created this mess. Once I learned the true story of Mickelson’s involvement with the Saudis, I had a fiduciary duty to bring the truth to fans and other stakeholders in the game. My loyalty goes to readers, not to Phil Mickelson, not the PGA Tour and certainly not the Saudis. But part of me most definitely wishes Phil had never called me. By then, I was a week away from my publisher’s deadline and the book was pretty much finished. It was full of fun, vivid and outrageous stories about Phil and enough juicy bits to create some buzz. His phone call turned both of our worlds upside down.

Michael C. Ford